Fantastic equestrian sport continued today during the World Equestrian Center Winter Classic #6 as yet another snow storm surged through the Midwest due to the ongoing polar vortex. Twenty three stunning Hunters stayed warm and dry in the expansive R+L Arena this evening as they vied for the win in the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby. Despite tough competition, it was Alisa Berry of Jason Berry Stables in Staunton, Virginia, aboard Michael Cline’s ‘Fate’ who took top honors, achieving the exciting personal victory of a first-time Derby win.
This evening’s course for the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby was designed by Bobby Murphy of Lexington, Kentucky, and featured ten beautifully decorated natural fences that emulated obstacles riders might encounter in the hunt field. Plenty of fresh cedar brush flanked each fence and landscaping filled the arena, adding to the natural feel of the course. The first round began over a lush vertical at the top of the ring, then entries galloped down the diagonal to a brick wall oxer. Entries then continued up the outside five-stride to one-stride line and rounded the top of the ring to jump a vertical log option that bent across the diagonal to a wagon wheel oxer option. Next, entries cantered past the ingate and over a skinny brush-filled option, and bent across the diagonal to a birch oxer option. To finish, entries navigated a single oxer on the diagonal headed home.
At the top of the order of go was Gabriella Conte aboard her own Best Of. The pair kept a steady rhythm and took all four high options, setting the standard for the class with a score of 85. However, soon after their round, Alisa Berry and Michael Cline’s Fate (Cosmos x Dolce Vita) entered the ring. Berry and Fate have had great success in the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby previously during the Winter Series of the Midwest, placing second just two weeks ago. The pair brought their A-game to the ring today, jumping a stylish first round and taking all four high options for a score of 90.
Conte and Berry were not the only two riders with incredible first rounds. Alisa Berry’s husband and trainer, Jason Berry, also had a lovely go aboard Kalanov Equestrian’s Harvey. The pair kept a forward pace throughout their round, taking all four high options and earning a score of 82. Jennifer Nadalin also had a wonderful first round aboard Owen Gajoch’s Maximus L (Camax L x Doreen), scoring an 86 and earning a spot among the leading horse and rider pairs of the first round.
Twelve horse and rider pairs made the cut off and were invited back to jump the handy course. It began over the single oxer on the diagonal, now headed away from the ingate, then rounded the top of the ring to the birch oxer option, which had also reversed directions and now faced the ingate. From there, entries were asked to roll back to the one stride on the rail, then continue to the vertical log option that bent to a wagon wheel oxer option. To finish, entries trotted the brick fence, now headed away from the ingate, then rolled back to jump the skinny brush-filled option headed home.
Jason Berry and Harvey were the first of the top four contenders to return, keeping their forward momentum from the first round and carefully planning their handy turns. The pair took all four high options and earned a score of 84 in the handy round, bringing their total score to 166, the highest total score thus far.
Shortly after, Gabriella Conte and Best Of returned for their handy round. Best Of’s gorgeous style wowed the judges and Conte’s skilled riding added to the judges’ handy considerations. The pair took all four high options for a score of 88, bringing their two round total to 173, moving them to the top of the leader board.
Next in the ring was Alisa Berry aboard Fate. The pair held the highest score from the first round and were determined to repeat their performance. Berry and Fate negotiated the course with a lovely, consistent pace and jumped each fence with stylish effort. The pair, again, took all four high options for a score of 89. Their combined scores of 90 and 89 brought their total to 179, sending them straight to first place.
Last to go was Jennifer Nadalin and Maximus L. The pair delivered a great round, taking all four high options and earning a score of 80.5. This brought their two round total to 166.5, moving the pair into third place behind Alisa Berry and Fate and Gabriella Conte and Best Of.
We caught up with Alisa Berry after her win in the $2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby to chat about her ride aboard Fate. “I’m just excited to be here,” laughed Berry, “I put my son on the bus this morning at my house at 7:15 a.m. and drove up here. I brought both dogs (we have two puppies) and my daughter, we hit snow and I got here at 2:00 pm, so I didn’t have a ton of time to get ready. I usually braid my horse myself, so I braided his tail and learned the course…and here we are! I juggle between being a Mom and riding. My son is with friends this weekend, so I got to come play!” This win was extremely special for Berry, not only because she made it to the show in time, but because this was her very first Derby win, “I’ve never won one, so I’m thrilled. I’ve been right there in second, and finally it was my turn! I’m super excited. I’ve never won anything where you put a cooler on the horse, so that was really fun!” It was fate, if we do say so ourselves.
$2,500 USHJA National Hunter Derby
- Fate, Alisa C. Berry – 90 | 89 | 179
- Best Of, Gabriella Conte – 85 | 88 | 173
- Maximus L, Jennifer L. Nadalin – 86 | 80.5 | 166.5
- Harvey, Jason Berry – 82 | 84 | 166
- Kalisto, Sarah M. Robertson – 78.5 | 87 | 165.5
- Carano, Kristjan Good – 84 | 81 | 165
- Robson, Kristjan Good – 83 | 79 | 162
- Limboy Von Worrenberg, Lauren Kissel – 82.5 | 77 | 159.5
- HG Sibelious, Maegan E. Fitzgerald – 76 | 82 | 158
- Chemistry, Stefanie A. Portman – 79 | 72 | 151